Name: Steve Balter
Genre: YA contemporary 14 & up
Title: I WISH I COULD FLY
I wish I could fly.
Maybe if I just close my eyes tight enough. Maybe then I can run away, fly away.
I squeeze so hard I think they might burst.
But I can’t escape---the smell, the heat, the flesh.
They’re so damn heavy.
They smother me.
He smothers me.
The metal bedframe creaks in rhythm and I focus on the beat, plead for it to quicken, to signal that the end is near.
A drip of sweat hits my shoulder, violating me in a way that somehow feels worse. I try to tilt, to let it run, to get it off of me. I can’t, and it burns a hole in my skin.
“Do you like it, Baby?”
I wonder if he has a daughter. Does he call her Baby, too?
I hear a siren in the distance. It gets louder, closer. I can see the glow from the blue and red lights as they speed by outside the motel window. They don’t stop for me.
He shudders, and it’s over.
He rolls off, and I can breathe.
He gets dressed, and I can live.
He throws money on the nightstand, and I can eat.
The door slams shut and I lie still, staring up at the cracked ceiling that blocks my view to heaven. I wonder what it’s like.
I guess now I’ll never know.
My name is Jade and there’s something you should know---I don’t want to die.
It’s taken me a while to figure that out. I’d like to tell you how I came to that conclusion.
First off let me say that I know I was on a bad path. There’s no denying it. I can give you reasons, justifications and all, but in the end, what does it matter? A fact’s a fact. And I was heading nowhere fast---that is if you consider six feet under nowhere.
But six months ago, just after my sixteenth birthday, everything changed for me.
Up until then I guess you could say I had been down on my luck. I’d been living on the streets for a while, doing what I had to do to get by. Stuff I don’t really like to talk about.
It’s not important anyway.
What matters is that six months ago, late at night, on the Vegas strip, I met Captain Jack, and everything changed.
I wasn’t working that night. You can’t work every night. Besides, I had enough to get by on and when it was like that, when I didn’t have to worry about food for a few days, I took a break. I liked going down to the strip, the nice part, where all the fancy casinos are. It’s like a dream world.
I would stand for hours, leaning over the wall in front of the Bellagio Hotel, watching the fountain show---the colors, the dancing water, the music, it’s Vegas at it’s best. If you ever want to feel alive, stand in front of the Bellagio.
That night I felt as alive as I had in a long time. I was primed. I just knew something had to go my way. Just had a feeling, you know? Given the way my life had gone so far, I figured the odds were with me.
So there I was, leaning over the wall, listening to music blast out of the speakers, when fate tapped me on the shoulder.
I knew it was fate, because it was just how Sugar had described it.
God I miss Sugar.
I met Sugar not too long after I got to Vegas. She had been on the streets for a long time, longer than she could remember. She looked out for me, showed me the ropes. She always would tell me that the streets weren’t the life for me, that I was destined for something better.
One day I said, “How do you know, Sugar?”
And that’s when she sat me down on the bench at the bus stop and laid it all out for me.
“Sweetness,” (that’s what she always called me) “you different than the rest of us. I seen it in you since I first laid eyes on you.” Her gold teeth reflected the neon sign in the liquor store window. “You got somethin’ special. And one day, you gonna make somethin’ outta yourself.”
“You really think so?”
She placed a withered hand on my shoulder. I could see the abandoned tracks running down her arm. She drew in a breath, summoning strength.
“I know so, Sweetness. First off, ain’t nobody on these streets talk like you. Half the time I ain’t even know what you talkin’ about. You too smart for the rest of us. And you just a baby.”
She paused, studying my eyes, searching my soul---or maybe searching for her own.
“Sooner or later, someone’ll see that you ain’t belong here. Fate’s gonna tap you on the shoulder. And then you gonna be saved.”
“Sweetness. You know all them fancy words, but you ain’t know fate?”
Of course I knew what fate was. Page 258. After fat cat and before fated.
Fate: the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are, or events to happen as they do.
I knew what fate was. I just didn’t know that it could tap you on the shoulder. But it did.
That night, six months ago, I was leaning over the wall staring at the fountains, lost in the magic, when something hit me. Not like a thought, something actually hit me.
The desert nights can get pretty cold and windy. I don’t suppose as cold as some places, but I’ll bet windier than most. The wind was whipping that night, the spray from the fountains soaking me. But I didn’t care.
I was standing there, minding my own business, when something hit my shoulder. It was fate---in the form of a baseball cap.
It startled me from my trance. At first I thought a bird had pecked me. That’s what it felt like. I looked around, but didn’t see one.
“Sorry about that!”
Some guy was shouting over the wind, running down the sidewalk toward me.
“The wind blew it off my head.” He bent down next to me. When he stood up he had a baseball cap in his hand and an embarrassed look on his face. “Pretty windy tonight.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I turned back to the fountains, trying to slide back into my dream.
“Beautiful. Aren’t they?”
Get lost dickhead.
“I like when they shoot straight up. Amazing how high they go.”
I stared straight ahead. “I like watching them alone.”
“Yeah, sure. Sorry.” There was a pause. “Thanks for saving my hat.”
I turned my head. He was holding the blue cap up in the air.
As he turned and walked away I caught a peek at his Rolex. That could get you killed in my part of town. I couldn’t help thinking he was dressed pretty nice for a guy wearing a baseball cap. Crisp shirt, clean jeans, polished shoes. Probably had some real cash, but didn’t need to show it off too much. On the streets I needed to make snap judgments about people: cop, freak, killer. It’s always the little things that tip you off. I was good at noticing the details that others missed. The guy in the blue baseball cap, he was chill.
He stopped a little ways down the wall and assumed the water watching position. I was beginning to feel bad for dissing him. From what I could see, he was damn cute. So what if he was probably almost twice my age. I could pull off looking a lot older, and usually did. I probably could have walked over to him and apologized for being rude and seen where it went. But I wasn’t that kind of person.
I never did anything that would make people take notice. Disappearing into the background was my specialty. I liked being invisible. Learned that early on. You could say it was drummed into me at home.
So there wasn’t much chance of me going up to this guy in front of the Bellagio and apologizing for being rude. I just stayed right where I was, staring straight ahead, and tried my best to disappear.